National championships will bring a level of badminton that hasn’t been seen before in the city.
Vancouver Island University is hosting the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championships starting Thursday (March 3).
“It’s fun to have them here,” said Graydon Robb, VIU player. “For the top Canadians to come play here, it’s pretty cool. We have a good gym, we have good facilities and we have a good culture here for badminton so it should be fun.”
It’s also the last chance, perhaps, to see the sport played at this level in Nanaimo. Badminton is losing its PacWest status next year, and though VIU’s badminton program will continue in some form, the model hasn’t yet been determined.
For this week, badminton will be alive and well and VIU athletics is excited.
“Getting to be in that environment and be a part of that kind of event, I think it’s worth all of the work that we put into it to make that happen,” said Janice Walker, VIU coach.
Host berths work differently in badminton than in other CCAA sports. The Mariners don’t get automatic berths in every division – they had to earn their spots, and they did just that, with Melissa Liew winning gold in women’s singles and Graydon Robb winning gold in men’s singles at PacWest championships last month.
Liew was dominant at provincials, winning almost every point, but knows the calibre of competition will be high at nationals.
“I know some of the players from some of the other provinces and I know it’s going to be tough, but I’ve been training and all I can do now is try and play my best,” she said.
Liew has been been playing “super well” and training hard,” said Robb.
“She deserves the gold this year. She has tough competition, but I think she can do it,” he said.
Men’s singles will be a challenging division, with Ontario champ Wenchao Shi the favourite.
Robb’s “crazy jump smash” and his mix of power, quickness and creativity on the court will put him in contention, said Walker.
“I know he has a really tough draw as well, but he’s a good player and he has a lot of skill so I think he’ll do well,” Liew said. “He will make it to the final.”
Championship-calibre badminton is nothing like backyard, beer-in-hand badminton, and the VIU Mariners hope some sports fans will come see that for themselves.
“Badminton is so fast, it’s so powerful [and] it’s got finesse at the same time…” Walker said. “You’re trying to make your plan rule over your opponent, who’s trying to work his plan against you. It’s a chess game, and at top speed.”
GAME ON … Robb’s first match is Thursday at 11 a.m., with Liew’s first match immediately afterward. The national finals will be played Saturday afternoon.